A disconnect appeared to persist between the workers that drive New Mexico’s oil and gas industry and the state leaders who regulate it.
That disparity between the needs of the workers and agenda of the government was exemplified in a group of billboards erected across southeast New Mexico this month, near cities like Carlsbad and Hobbs, centers of the prolific Permian Basin oilfield.
The signage, posted by oil and gas advocacy group Power the Future, read “You’re fracking welcome, Santa Fe,” substituting fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, for an expletive.
Hydraulic fracturing is a process of breaking up underground shale rock by pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals beneath the surface so that crude oil and natural gas can be extracted.
The sentiment on the billboards was apparently intended to suggest leaders at the State Capitol in Santa Fe were out of touch with the economic benefits provided by extraction to New Mexico as the industry was to known to provide up to 40 percent of the State’s budget.
That same phrase was used in social media posts and a podcast put out by Power the Future intended to express the importance of oil and gas in New Mexico.
Legislators and state officials recently began suggesting the State’s economy should be diversified away from its reliance on oil and gas, and industry prone to dramatic booms and busts leaving New Mexico’s financial situation vulnerable to depression, while also seeking to curb carbon emissions from operations through stricter regulations.
The trend coincided with recent federal policy from President Joe Biden who took office in January and placed an indefinite halt on new federal oil and gas leases while appearing to direct the nation toward renewable sources of energy and a greater focus on environmental concerns.
Larry Behrens, Santa Fe-based western states director with Power the Future, said such policies ignored the needs of energy workers in New Mexico and around the U.S. along with their contributions to the economy.
That’s why, he said, the billboards were put up: to remind political leaders of the workers that support the state and nation.
“The purpose is simple: we know the eco-left politicians in Santa Fe will never say thank you for all the hard work done by our energy workers so we decided it was time to send a message,” Behrens said. “The energy workers of New Mexico provide the power that moves our nation and billions in state revenue, they deserve our gratitude.”
He said recent actions by state lawmakers such as bill during the 2021 Legislative Session that would have placed a moratorium on new fracking permits, which died in committee after being introduced for the third year in a row, proved some lawmakers discount the importance of the fossil fuel industry.
Environmental lobbyists that support such proposals have an undue influence, Behrens said, on New Mexico politics from out-of-state sources.
“Sadly, too many in Santa Fe simply use the energy provided and spend the money earned while at the same time bashing this critical industry. Enough is enough,” Behrens said.
“We also did it to bring workers together so they can have a voice and know what’s going on in Santa Fe. The eco-left has millions in out-of-state dollars to push their radical agenda and New Mexicans need to know there is another side to the story.”
A landmark piece of legislation supported by Gov. Lujan Grisham and passed into law in 2019, the Energy Transition Act, established New Mexico’s agenda of lowering carbon emissions and moving toward carbon-free sources of energy.
It was touted by Democrat leaders as the means for a “just transition” by virtue of its gradual phase out of carbon-based energy and funding it created to support workers impacted by such actions.
Behrens said the transition was “forced” upon New Mexicans and will lead to massive job losses around the country.
“Not a single Santa Fe politician who supports this forced transition is there when an energy worker loses their job or is forced to move, they simply continue to enjoy the benefits from the industry while trying to destroy it,” he said.
“If they’re looking for a solution, these same politicians should travel down to Southeast New Mexico and spend real, on the job time with these workers. And then they should actually listen to them.”
Lujan Grisham Press Secretary Nora Meyers Sackett pointed to recent rulemakings where both the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD) and New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) worked to establish new regulations on emissions from oil and gas operations in the state.
EMNRD enacted its rules intended to prevent the waste of methane earlier this year, while NMED’s rulemaking process to curb the emission of ozone precursors was ongoing.
Both processes, Sackett argued, entailed years of stakeholder input including from the oil and gas industry, exemplifying, she said, the State’s preference of working with energy companies to ensure their needs are met.
“State agencies charged with drafting emissions reductions rules undertook an extensive, two-year engagement process, of which the oil and gas industry was an integral part,” Sackett said. “The methane advisory panel, which yielded a technical foundation on which both rules were drafted, included more than 15 technical experts from the industry.
“The state also received hundreds of comments on both draft rules from industry, many of which were incorporated in EMNRD’s final and NMED’s proposed rules. In addition to environmental and public health impacts, economic considerations were also a key part of developing these rules.”
The result, Sackett argued, were policies that achieved the State’s pollution reduction goals while also supporting the industry and allowing it to function for the benefit of New Mexico.
She also pointed to correspondence from Lujan Grisham to the Biden administration highlighting the importance of oil and gas operations on federal lands in New Mexico as it reviews the U.S. Department of Interior’s federal leasing program amid the ongoing halt.
“This process helped the state develop ambitious but achievable regulations that protect the environment and public health, reduce waste of precious natural resources and foster innovation and greener practices in the oil and gas industry while enabling it to continue to thrive in New Mexico,” Sackett said.
“The governor has been clear, including in her recent communications with the Biden administration, that the oil and gas industry is a vital part of the state’s economy and the livelihoods of many of our citizens.”
In addition to the rulemakings, NMED recently expanded an online payment option for owners of petroleum storage tanks who pay an annual fee to the state that funds oversight and regulatory compliance efforts along with technical assistance to operators.
NMED Cabinet Secretary James Kenney said the move was intended to make easier for oil and gas companies to do business in the state and was another example of the state government support business such as energy companies.
“The Environment Department modernization efforts are making it easier to conduct business in New Mexico,” Kenney said.
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.